A few days ago I cancelled a meeting without telling my boss. I didn’t think I had to. It was one of those things where the other party dictated what they thought should happen because it seemed like the common sense thing to do, and me, without applying common sense, agreed.
I can’t explain the thought process, perhaps because there wasn’t one, but the conversation went something like this:
J: “Hey Betty, can you cancel our Tuesday morning meeting with Boss man, Jeb isn’t in and we don’t have much to update Bossman on since our meeting with him last Friday.”
Me, wondering if it was a good idea, all the while knowing in my gut that it wasn’t, “Okay.”
Click. Click. Meeting cancelled.
On Wednesday morning, Bossman rolls in, nods at me, then goes to his desk.
A few minutes later my phone rings.
It’s Bossman. My voice cracks as I answer. He never calls this early in the morning, preferring to go quietly through his emails.
I get up and walk into his office, hoping that I haven’t forgotten the coffee again. I see that he has a cup on his desk. It’s not the coffee. He has a disgruntled look on his face, but then again, it is the morning. Early on he told me he wasn’t a morning person.
“Where’s my meeting,” he asks.
“Ah.” I mentally punch myself in the face. Here we go. “I cancelled it,” I say.
“Who told you to cancel it.”
“J did, Jeb’s out because there was a death in his family… and they said that as a team, they didn’t have any new updates to bring to you.”
“So you just cancelled it?”
“What is wrong with you? What’s the point of having a set, recurring meeting if you just go and cancel them at their whim? How does that keep them accountable? Oh so they have nothing to show me. Well, why don’t they just stay home? Maybe I shouldn’t even come to work?”
I stand awkwardly and nod along, wondering why he never raises his voice. I study his face. How tired of me is he? I’ve been here eight months…nearing nine now, and in a few days my employee evaluations are due – will he even bother to write it out? I imagine him pulling a huge guilt trip and telling me to fill it out on his behalf. “You tell me how you think you should be evaluated,” I imagine him saying. But back to the cancelled meeting.
“Sorry,” I say, “I wasn’t thinking. I figured…” I don’t know what I figured. I didn’t figure anything because…
“You weren’t thinking,” he says, “You don’t think. You don’t want to think. You just do. You just want to follow instructions, from anyone!”
I say nothing.
“If that’s the case, then you’d be better off working at Burger King. At Burger King, you just gotta follow instructions.”
He made an incongruous gesture with his hands, reaching up to pull some imaginary burgers down from imaginary shelves and placed them roughly on an imaginary conveyor belt. Had anyone been standing outside his office, it would have seemed like a terrible seated rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” but he was really demonstrating to me what life would be like at Burger King.
Finally I say, “Do you want me to call J and them upstairs? We can still hold the meeting.”
“Forget it,” he said, “Just don’t cancel my meetings for stupid reasons next time. Don’t let them tell you what to do. You’re here to hold other people accountable, not just to me, but to themselves and their responsibilities.”
“Got it,” I say, then as I walk out, make a mental note to think more.
I have good, thoughtful intentions I swear. But brain cells and memory are no longer on my side. Whose side ARE they on?
This morning my boss rolls in again, and I am pretty sure that at least for the rest of the week the calendar is good. All meetings are on. Things have been confirmed and reconfirmed. I am excited like an eager ninth grader in honors bio who read the assigned chapter a couple of times. I almost want Bossman to test me.
He nods good morning as he saunters past my desk and I grin brightly, assured that we’re both off to a good start.
I hear “snap snap snap” and from the corner of my eye I see the lights turn on. Next stop, coffee pot. And once he pours himself a nice hot cup and settles into his chair…
I snap my head towards him. He is walking towards the desk and motions for me to come in.
Oh goodness what now.
“You served me hot water again.”
My jaw slackens as though someone has hit me with a sledgehammer. The most obvious thing. ALWAYS, the most obvious thing. Concentrate on one thing and let another thing slip.
I rush to the coffee pot as my morning’s actions rush back toward me. My mental checklist failed again. It makes me sad that I need a mental checklist to make coffee. The fact that I had forgotten AGAIN to put coffee in the coffee pot seems the stuff of comedy and at the end of the day, my boss would tell David that it was his daily entertainment, a small, one woman show called, “What will Betty forget today?”
At this point, there is no point in explaining myself. I grab the coffee pot and laugh. What else is there to do?
I lift the cover and scoop the beans in. How could I have missed that smell this morning? And it’s almost like deja-vu, my standing there, scooping coffee into the the filter and thinking, “Good god I am so bad at this.” The conversation we had yesterday returns to me.
“I don’t even think I can work at Burger King,” I say.
“Nope,” he says without looking at me. He has already sat down in front of his computer and is running through his morning emails. He shakes his head and says drily, “Burger King would not want you.”